How to research candidates

How can the busy citizen/voter find the time to evaluate each of the candidates and issues on his ballot?

The best way would seem to be to examine candidate voting records. As we all know, what a legislator actually does is a more informative gauge than what he says or claims in a glossy mailer, TV ad or speech filled with sound bites.

Shortly after the candidate filing deadline in early June, the Tampa Bay Times publishes legislator voting records on major bills during the previous session. This permits the evaluation of an incumbent legislator but not their opponent(s) in the upcoming election. In October, the Times also publishes a comparison of candidates for all local races in the coverage area. Such comparisons are based on the answers to a standard questionnaire. The information provided is primarily generalizations about the higher profile political issues and may provide little insight into where the candidate stands on issues which may be priorities of individual voters.

Other organizations prepare more specific lists of questions to give voters a better indication of where a candidate stands on a wider variety of issues. One of those organizations is the League of Women Voters whose website, www.vote411.org offers that and other important voter information.

Shortly before the election, the Times publishes its recommendations of the best qualified candidate in each race, accompanied by the reasoning behind their choice. Those recommendations cover only candidates of the two major parties. Unfortunately, that policy leaves the 25%+ of voters registered as No Party Affiliation (NPA) without an opinion about independent candidates, making other research avenues even more important.

A number of organizations offer forums where voters can ask questions of the candidates. Among those organizations are the League of Women Voters Hillsborough County – Education Action Group which sponsors “Coffee with the Candidates”, the Hillsborough County PTA, Chambers of Commerce, the Tiger Bay Club, the Keystone Civic Association, Teaching for the Culture, and others. These are a great way to get to know your candidates. This year most forums will be virtual, presenting an easier way for voters to observe their candidates in action. Watch for those announcements of candidate forums.